Thursday, March 3, 2011

School days and a yard sale tale

Today's post is for my old classmates who follow my blog. The rest of you are welcome to read on, of course, though it won't mean as much to you as it will to them.

Growing up in a small town means that you go through the whole school experience with the same small bunch of kids. In my case, Muscatine, Iowa had several grade schools, two junior highs, and one high school. So, while you may have started out in different schools, you eventually got to know all the other kids your age by the time high school rolled around. This was my crowd from Jefferson Grade School. I know the teacher is Miss Douglas. I think this is fifth grade, 1969 -- maybe it's fourth grade -- I'm not 100% certain. (Note: I'm told by a fellow Jefferson student that it was fourth grade -- so 1968, not '69) (Note: years later my daughter attended the same grade school.)

The actual photo is in a folder with a key to the students written in my own grade school cursive scrawl. Here's the rundown.

Front row (L to R): Kimberly Ritz, Sheila Cozad, Roxanne Schram, Rachel (no name noted -- and I don't recall it -- or her!), Doreen Knox, Wm. Ravenscraft

2nd row: Miss Douglas, Greg Allison, Mike Woodworth, me, Coleen Rickey, Ricky Bluhm

3rd row: Shawn Carter, Mike Munday, Lorie Cozad, Mike Miller, Deb England

4th row: Katherine Ash, Jeffrey Elder, Stephen Draves, Ross Nelson, Rodney Swailes, Gregg LaRue.

I haven't kept in touch with anyone from this group. It seems most of my closest friends were made in junior high and high school -- my friend, Kerry Grady, was either in the other 5th grade class at Jefferson, or had moved across town by this point -- my memory is shaky on some of these matters. But I remember most of these kids fondly and very well, and have seen a few at class reunions over the years.

When I moved to the Twin Cities, I had a little contact with Mike Munday, who was (is?) also living in the area. Mike was born a few days before me, in the same hospital, and we were in the nursery together, our mothers roommates for a few days, so he's the first one of these kids that I met -- though I really have no recall of that! He also lived just up the street from me -- and back then he and his older brother had a nice collection of built up (all unpainted) Aurora model kits. Are you still out there, Mike?

Oddly, I have almost no memory of the students standing on either side of me, or the girl in front of me. I do recall that this was the first teacher of mine that I didn't like (sorry, Miss Douglas, wherever you are).

Looking at this brings back a lot of fun memories, but it's also bittersweet, as two of these kids didn't live long enough to make it to high school with the rest of us. Greg Allison and Ross Nelson (the later of whom I counted as my best friend at the time of this photo) died way too young.

Greg was a troubled young man - a friend who, for reasons I can't fathom, turned into a nasty bully by junior high -- and then, tragically, bought his own ticket out of this world. I won't speculate on the why of it all -- I just regret things went that way for him.

Ross had moved away before we got to junior high -- to Burlington, Iowa -- not that far a drive by car -- but for a grade school kid, a world away. I lost contact after the move, and a few years later I heard he'd died of a heart attack on the field during track practice. I didn't attend the visitation or funeral, as my parents thought it would be too upsetting for me (and it would have been) -- but I always had trouble wrapping my head around the fact that he was really gone. Moving away is one thing. Dying is another.

On my last day in Muscatine, moving van already packed for the trip to Minneapolis, I spent some time just driving around the town -- wandering from neighborhood to neighborhood. I'd lived there for 45 years and wanted to take one long last look at the place. Much of what I'd loved about the town was gone by then (my newsstand, hobby shop, downtown movie theater, junior high school, the drive in theater, etc.), but the neighborhoods still looked the same as always, and the drive brought back a lot of memories.

I also stopped at a yard sale. Of course, I always stop at yard sales -- one never knows what baby boomer-era (or earlier) treasure might be found. And I've found more than a few.

In this case, the sale was in a neighborhood well off the beaten path -- not a place I'd usually drive by -- but I was giving the town a thorough look, so here I was. Most of the stuff was the usual yard sale fare -- that is to say, clothes and junk -- but I did find one prize. In a stack of books, here was the 1969 Whitman Mission: Impossible hardcover. Cool! Whitman's illustrated juvenile TV series adaptations were something I'd long collected -- the Alex Toth illustrated Maverick volume being my favorite of the batch -- and I was glad to add this to my collection for a quarter. I quickly handed my twenty-five cents to the older fellow taking the money, thanked him, and was on my way, tucking the book away to look at later.

The next day was the big move -- and unpacking the truck on arrival in Minneapolis. It was some time later -- loading up a bookshelf with unpacked books, when I actually got around to cracking open the Mission: Impossible book to take a better look at it. When I did, I saw on the inside front cover, written in a child's hand, the signature of my old friend, Ross Nelson.

You tell me -- was that a coincidence -- or an old classmate saying hello -- or goodbye? Thanks for the book, pal.


Martin Powell said...

What an amazing story. Gave me chills.

Randy J said...

"Much of what I'd loved about the town was gone by then (my newsstand =_Cohen's, hobby shop = Neal's, downtown movie theater = Bosten Cinema, junior high school = Muscatine Central Junior High School, the drive in theater = the Hilltop Drive-in, etc.), but the neighborhoods."

Similar circles, Mr. Scary. Now that's chills!!!

Peggy VZ now G said...

Great story Terry. Exactly what a blog should be, heartfelt, informative, and entertaining. Thanks for sharing these gems.

Julie said...

What memories. Looking at the picture and seeing all of those faces brought back so many memories of Jefferson and Muscatine. Whenever I hear about a young person dying at a sporting event, I am always reminded of the day that I heard that Ross had died. Muscatine has changed alot in the 34 years since I left there. Thank you for reminding me of what I loved about it.